Behind the habit, there are hopes and dreams proving that nuns are just like the rest of us. Some of them even love to sing and dance and tell jokes. Well, at least that’s the case with the Little Sisters of Hoboken, as portrayed in the musical comedy Nunsense, a Conrad Grebel University College and Aha: Productions show set for later this month.
Created by Dan Goggin, the Nunsense concept started as a line of greeting cards featuring a nun offering tart quips with a clerical slant. The popularity of the cards prompted Goggin to develop a caberet show, eventually expanding it to a musical that has since spawned six sequels.
Nunsense opened off-Broadway in 1985 and became the second longest running off-Broadway show in musical theatre history (3,672 performances), winning Outer Critic Circle Awards for Best Book, Best Music and Best Production.
All the acclaim is well deserved, said director Lisa Hagen of its catchy tunes and the variety of musical styles at play, including jazz, tap and swing.
“The show is just one of those popular shows that everyone seems to love, whether they’re musical theatre lovers or not.”
And she should know, as this marks the sixth production of Nunsense with which she’s been involved.
Nunsense begins when the sisters discover that their cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, has accidentally poisoned 52 of their fellow nuns, leaving the survivors in dire need of funds for the burials. The sisters decide that the best way to raise the money is to put on a variety show, so they take over the school auditorium, which is currently set up for the Grade 8 production of “Grease.”
Here we meet Reverend Mother Regina (played by Vicci Taylor), a former circus performer; Sister Mary Hubert (Tracy Weber), the Mistress of Novices; a streetwise nun from Brooklyn named Sister Robert Anne (Sarrah Scott); Sister Mary Leo (Heather Agnew), a novice who is a wannabe ballerina; and the wacky Sister Mary Amnesia (Alison Enns), the nun who lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head. What follows are the vaudevillian antics that is their fundraising effort.
The fundraising aspect also extends to the Conrad Grebel show itself, as proceeds from Nunsense will go to the college’s Fill the Table campaign, which is raising money for the expansion of its kitchen and dining room facilities.
The upcoming production features plenty of participants with connections to Conrad Grebel, from the cast through to current students, alum, staff and board members, said co-producer Alison Enns, who in addition to being part of the cast, is also on staff at the college.
Everyone is on board with the fundraising effort, said Enns, a veteran of community theatre following 10 years in opera.
All of the cast members have extensive experience, some if it with professional theatre groups, notes Hagen.
“This group of nuns is highly intelligent actresses,” said Hagen. “We’ve got the cream of the crop.
“We have five natural comediennes milking it,” she added with a laugh. The cast is very funny just on their own.”
Behind the scenes, there are veteran theatrical types as well, including choreographer Jennifer Hishon Wright and a three-piece band providing live accompaniment.
The experience of those involved help provide some of the visual comedy that makes this production their own.
“We have a very unique movie presentation, a funny take on a famous movie about nuns, with local references,” said Hagen, refraining from providing too much detail ahead of time.
Five performances of Nunsense run February 20-23 in the Great Hall at Conrad Grebel University College, 140 Westmount Rd. N., Waterloo. Tickets are $40 for general admission or $20 for students, available through the Grebel website.